Rich Kreiner’s Yearlong Best of the Year: Pim & Francie by Al Columbia

Posted by on March 31st, 2010 at 1:00 PM

Fantagraphics Books; 240 pp.; $28.99; Color; Hardcover

For a fan of Al Columbia, it only took a good look at a couple of pages of Pim & Francie to recognize that the book belonged in any personal “best of” survey for the year. Then it was promptly put away, left for longer hours of stronger spring sunshine, singing birds, budding flowers, cavorting squirrels and the crack of non-aluminum bats. Essentially it was dropped like a scary potato lest its cumulative impact, its dark, curdling, irrevocable creepiness, prove unmanning.

While I was ducking Pim & Francie, Tim Kreider was at his post and to his work. He wrote a superior description and analysis of the volume, filing it at the stroke of midnight of March 18th on your internet dial. His is the kind of piece that reduces other commentators to stand to the side cheering “Atta `way, Tim!” and “You go, bro!” and then turn away and bite a clenched fist in a gesture of theatrical envy. He said more than I thought, better than I could. If you have not already read it, Al Columbia fan or no, please consider doing so.

I mean, before you even think about reading more here.

Because I can only squeak out one supplemental note, that regarding Kreider’s initial reservation over Columbia’s willingness to forgo the more coherent sequencing found in conventional stories. He cites, to effect, Francis Bacon’s quote about the “boredom of narration” and considers the iconic power imbedded in the fine arts.

I’d go further without necessarily going deeper. The sort of horror Columbia presents in Pim & Francie works even better without the trappings of recitation and the cause and effect on which they depend. This sort of dread-inducing fright functions without regard to the recognizable comforts of logic and the niceties of narration. This is visceral, elemental terror that generally festers below — or alongside invisibly — human reckoning. It fairly defies contrivances such as storytelling. Crafted by the right hands, it makes any concession to rational ordering seem, in its own way, like jumping the shark. There is only association, nerve endings, misgivings and successive jolts. Kreider is right that the book has a progression in a formal, primal sense, an almost sensual engorgement of exotic clots within a bulging rise and fall, fall, fall. But smaller segments, considered in seemingly any arrangement or in no arrangement at all, can be gaped at with scarcely any loss of impact. Frontwards, backways, sneak-a-peek sideways, it all packs a monumentally disturbing wallop.

So his is a terrific critique of a terrific comic. Pim & Francie is certainly a standout book of the year. Take it from Tim Kreider.

All images ©2009 Al Columbia

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